Books for 8-12s: The Outcast<br/>The Gooey, Chewy, Rumble, Plop Book<br/>Pippi Longstocking<br/>Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror<br/>Point Blanc

Rebel girls, junior spies and some secret eruptions
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The Independent Culture

Michelle Paver's The Outcast (Orion, £9.99) is the eagerly-awaited next episode in her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. I have already lent my proof copy twice to young friends who couldn't wait for publication. It is set in a prehistoric North country, when men rely so completely on nature in all its forms that they give trees and animals spirit form, and worship and respect them. In Wolf Brother, Spirit Walker and Soul Eater, the young hero Torak learnt to fend for himself with the help of his wolf and Renn, daughter of the head of the Raven Clan, and to defeat some of the evil soul-eaters. In Outcast, he faces his biggest challenge yet: the pollution of his entire world. Paver researched at depth in the Arctic regions to give unparalleled detail to her descriptions of the practicalities of life: a triumph.

The book grabbed most often by visiting children – and adults – from the shelf of review copies in my hall has been Steve Alton and Nick Sharratt's The Gooey, Chewy, Rumble, Plop Book (Bodley Head, £9.99). This is entirely because of the revoltingly tactile three-dimensional soft rubber tongue which nestles in the heart of the cover under a peel-off window, slurping at an ice-cream. Gooey, Chewy... has taught me things about my innards that I never knew. Stuffed with lively pop-ups (enormous mouth with teeth and pink dangly bit, intricately coiled pull-out of small and large intestine, an accordion-pleated internal view of the gut), it is full of astonishing "foul facts": in an average lifetime, the oesophagus squeezes between 30 and 50 tons of mushed food. If anything can avert the impending obesity crisis, it is this book.

Achieving the ideal match between author and illustrator is one of the most satisfying publishing feats. Whoever asked Lauren Child, of Clarice Bean and Charlie and Lola fame, to take on Astrid Lindgren's 1945 anarchic classic Pippi Longstocking (trans. Tiina Nunnally; Oxford, £14.99) was a genius. Maybe it was Child's idea: she acknowledges Pippi as a book which "caught my imagination, influenced my games, and has had a lasting impact". Their heroines have the same benign devilry.

In these days of Horrid Henry and other juvenile tearaways, it is good to be reminded that they were all utterly outclassed by Pippi, whose mother died when she was a baby and whose seafaring father was washed overboard. Nothing daunted, she sets up house alone with her horse in the porch and her (real) monkey in a doll's bed, and deals as briskly with visiting policeman and circus acrobats as with genteel tea-parties. Child's figures prance through the story,invading and escaping from its text. Typographical jokes mix with merry fabric collages to make every new page a delight.

Inga Moore gives a different kind of new face to Frances Hodgson Burnett's even older classic, The Secret Garden (Walker, £15.99). There is a Scandinavian look to her Mary Lennox, and hints of Carl Larssen in the richly detailed interiors and garden scenes. But it is all there in the text. It is a tribute to her skill that she makes you experience with quite new eyes the story of a contrary orphan and a spoilt invalid boy, cured by fresh air and country wisdoms.

Chris Priestley abandons his historical thrillers for children in Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror (Bloomsbury, £9.99),a classic ghoulies and long-legged beasties story. Paths that coil between trees like snakes hiding in thickets will lead our hero Edgar nowhere nice, and an uncle whose house is surrounded by "feral bushes" of yew topiary and whose face is always occluded may tell enthralling scary stories, but no good will come of them. David Roberts's elegant graphics lace the tale with wistful menace.

Anthony Horowitz has the reputation of being the best thing that happened to boys' reading since Biggles. Point Blanc (£7.99) is a graphic novel version of the soon-to-be-filmed second instalment of boy spy Alex Rider's adventures. Its its mind-blowing images of Alex hurtling down black runs on an ironing board and ramming a helicopter in a snowmobile should be enough to persuade unwilling readers to graduate to the books themselves. In no time, they'll be ready for the latest in the Rider series, Snakehead (Walker, £12.99).



Christina Hardyment's 'Malory' is published by HarperPerennial

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